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Jax Daily Record Friday, Feb. 22, 201312:00 PM EST

Senate panel passes outdoor smoking ban bill

by: Michael Peltier

Cities and counties could bar smokers from beaches, parks and other publicly owned outdoor areas under a proposal that passed an early Senate test Thursday, despite concerns from restaurateurs.

By unanimous vote, the Senate Regulated Industries Committee approved the measure, SB 258, which expands the state's clear indoor air restrictions to more outdoor venues. Voters approved the Florida Indoor Clean Air Act a decade ago.

The proposal would allow local governments to enact smoke-free areas on publicly owned land as long as smoking sections also are available.

A similar bill stalled last year after concerns over smoking on sidewalks. The current version prohibits smoking only on sidewalks in public parks, on public beaches or in recreations areas, continuing to allow smoking on regular streetside sidewalks. 

The bill also would allow cities and counties to extend smoke-free zones from public buildings to 75 feet from the entrance, or the same distance from a ventilation system or windows.

Law enforcement officials would be required to first alert violators of the no-smoking restrictions and ask them to leave before they can issue a citation.

"Nobody wants to put anyone in jail for doing these things but it does send a signal," said Sen. John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine). "This state wants to be smoke free, eventually ... this is just one incremental step toward getting there."

Rep. Bill Hager (R-Delray Beach), filed a House version of the bill this week. 

In December, Sarasota County Judge Maryann Boehm ruled that Sarasota's ordinance banning smoking in public parks was unenforceable, arguing that regulating smoking was a task left to the Legislature.

Thursday's vote came after representatives of the state's restaurant industry expressed concerns over the potential of unintended consequences, but said they hoped to work with the sponsors to work out problems as the bills progress. 

"When the smoking ban was passed many businesses spent hundreds of millions of dollars to reconfigure their properties to accommodate both the new law and our customers," said Richard Turner of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. "At the moment, we are concerned that some of these ordinances could impact the investments that have been made."

Some panelists also expressed concerns, saying they want assurances that beaches and public parks will not be totally off limits to smokers. 

"The beach belongs to everybody," said Rep Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville). "And people are different." 

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